Are we under-estimating racism in Canada?

Do Canadians think of any countries as “shithole” countries?

Why do so many of us keep harping on the proposition that Canadians are far less racist than Americans?

In a recent bipartisan meeting held to discuss US immigration reform, President Donald Trump is reported to have wondered aloud: “why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” He made this remark with specific reference to immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and some parts of Africa.

Would a Canadian Prime Minister ever use such derogatory and repulsive language in the presence of a group of lawmakers representing both his own governing party and the main opposition party?

The generally held view on that subject is that, whatever our personal opinions, most of us Canadians will not publicly use such racist language. And that view applies to both ends of the spectrum, whether we are political leaders or private citizens.

According to that “common wisdom”, most Canadian racists will not openly throw their racist attitudes in the faces of the “others” whom they consider as either inferior or unworthy of being respected.

However, it is too easy to take comfort in the many and diverse ways in which American society wears it racism. They use capital letters boldly spelt out for all to see, and for the victims of their racism to feel on a day-to-day basis.

It is tempting to take comfort in the idea that Canada will never see in the future a concerted effort to disenfranchise large non-white communities, as was the case in several state legislatures in the USA in the last ten years or so.

Canadians must never be satisfied with the “certainly less racist than Americans” label.

The fact is that we have regular displays of aggressive racism at all levels and in all facets of life, right here on home soil. Three examples will suffice to make this point.

Last year, the killing of six Muslims in an attack on a mosque in Quebec provided ample evidence of the seriousness of Islamophobia as a threat to the enjoyment of fundamental human rights for all in Canada.

Similarly, the Province of Quebec’s so-called “Religious Neutrality Law” of 2017 is clearly anti-Muslim legislation that bars public workers and persons receiving a public service from wearing the niqab, burka or a face covering.

It is also important to note that that new law was proposed and pushed to approval by a majority Liberal government in a province in which, according to public reports, the two main opposition parties, the Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec, hold the view that it is still too weak.

At the federal level, former PM Harper publicly and shamelessly promoted his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant platform for several months in the 2015 election campaign.

Then, after he lost that election, two frontline candidates for the leadership of his federal Conservative Party publicly proposed and endorsed anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim policies. They publicly acknowledged that their discrimination-based politics was compatible with the populist [and racist] dogma of the newly installed President of the United States of America.

In the context of President Trump’s racist portrayal of a number of countries, he has expressed a strong preference for Norway. No doubt, this latter European country can provide lily-white immigrants for the America he wants to make great again.

But Haiti deserves international respect as the first Black country in the world to gain its independence from its military victory over a Western European empire. The Haitians had defeated the forces of France’s Emperor Napoleon and became a nation in 1804.

Consequent on that victory, Haiti was forced to pay to France reparations amounting to 90 million gold francs, for the loss of the slaves and plantations owned by that European country.

For the insolence of winning its own freedom from slavery and for the contagious demonstration effect of its victory over an imperial power, Haiti was punished for over a hundred years by European nations and particularly by successive governments of the United States which used military force to ensure the payment of the reparations.

That extensive punishment pushed Haiti into poverty and kept it there ever since.

To add insult to injury, the US has benefitted significantly from the profits of its political, trade and investment relations with Haiti. From 2014 to 2017 that privileged relationship contributed a surplus of over US$1.123 billion to the US economy.

Those historical facts plus Haiti’s huge reserves of artistic and literary talent contrast sharply with the unenlightened spittle of the not very presidential personage at the hapless helm of the White House.

Nevertheless, it is unhelpful and even dangerous for Canadians, especially Black Canadians, to continue to work under the complacent, misleading and over-simplified assumption that Canada is less racist than the USA.

We owe it to ourselves to set a much higher standard in our anti-racism goals.